PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 1, 2008
f you are working in a church you need to read Tim Stevens’ Pop Goes The Church. I could leave this entire review at that simple recommendation. There is a reason why it was voted “Best Book” in Collide Magazine’s 2008 Reader’s Choice Awards.
There are a lot of books on the market that purport to put the church on the fast track towards being “relevant.” They generally collapse beneath the weight of their desire to be too much or do not even begin to deliver on the simply ideas they put forward. But, Pop Goes The Church is complex in its simplicity.
One thing that is immediately evident about this book is that Stevens loves the local church. While many have thrown up their hands (or washed their hands entirely) of the viability of the local church, Stevens believes that the local church offers light in the darkness. If grabbing a hold of and leveraging pop culture is a means of augmenting the church’s ability to shine that light, then so be it. And Stevens is a pop culture…guru.
As far as the set-up goes, Stevens keeps it rather simple. He lays out the problem. Chances are, your church sucks. There’s a problem and you don’t know how to fix it. From there, he takes a turn and explains how pop culture is, in a sense, the world’s most popular religion. It’s popular for a reason. He spends some time looking at how various churches have looked at and approached the issue of pop culture. Most churches have, in Stevens’ opinion either screwed the pooch or been well-meaning but sorely misguided. However, in the chapter “Scratch People Where They Itch,” Stevens turns an important corner and the book becomes intensely practical, rather than theoretical.
In the chapter “Scratch People Where They Itch,” Stevens makes the statement, “Many pastors born in America and leading churches in America, don’t realize they must operate as a missionary in a foreign land.” While some might disagree with me, I think this is the most important statement made in the entire book. Without even talking about pop culture for the first 1/3 of this particular chapter, Stevens reminds the reader that preaching the Gospel—proclaiming, sharing, experiencing, and living Jesus with others—is, first and foremost, a missionary effort. I wish the statement had come a little earlier in the book, but I can understand Stevens’ methodology and it is almost parabolic in scope.
From here on out, Stevens spends time giving church leaders practical advice about ways to leverage pop culture and highlights twenty churches that are doing things differently and engaging people in fresh and exciting ways.
Something that works for Pop Goes The Church is the inclusion of a multimedia component, not unlike what Francis Chan did for his book, Crazy Love. From time to time a computer screen symbol appears by a paragraph that illustrates an important point. Each time the reader sees this symbol, they will also find a keyword link to the book’s companion website, PopGoesTheChurch.com. There, the reader will be given access to videos, graphics, and additional stories connected to that particular keyword. While the reader need not have access to the Internet to get Stevens’ message, it is a great supplement to the printed material. (However, if you’re reading Pop Goes The Church and you don’t use the Internet, you’re likely going to fail miserably at much of what Steven puts forward in the title.)
Here is where I think this title may run into some trouble. I am in my late 20’s. It is natural for me to think the way Stevens does. However, I work in ministry with people who want to reach “this generation” using yesterday’s principles. In attempting to communicate Stevens’ ideas, I often find myself working extremely hard to help those listening to understand. And I am lucky. At least they are listening to me. Many young people and forward thinkers in ministry will be tuned out by those who hold the keys to kingdom—“This is has worked for years, we see no need to change now…” is their official motto.
The point is this: The church cannot afford to stand on the sidelines while culture passes us by and sweeps lost people away. Ultimately, this is a missionary endeavor and if pop culture is what people are into, then the church has a responsibility to figure out how to engage it. There will likely be differences of opinion along the way about how to do that and how far is too far, but it is undeniable that pop culture is here to stay. Tim Stevens has done an excellent job of helping clear up some of the cobwebs of Christian irrelevancy and provided applicable tools to move the church forward into the present.